Setting the table toddler style

  Have I ever shared how I discovered Montessori? I’ll have to write a post about it. The short version is that I visited and observed a Montessori classroom and the experience changed my life.

One of the things I observed that day was the children setting the table for lunch. It was such a beautiful sight. This is a staple activity in most Montessori classrooms, regardless of age. 

  From a toddler perspective, it is an awesome activity. 

– It meets the need for movement: the child goes back and forth from table to shelf to bring table mats, plates, utensils etc.

– It meets the child’s need for language. He can mention the name of each object, the different shapes, the materials- glass, wood, metal, cloth etc. He can talk about the process, the other children whose places he is setting etc.

– It meets the child’s need for order. There is a place for everything and it gives him an opportunity to be exact.

Setting the table is a great way to teach service to others, care of self, others and the environment. It helps build community and appreciation between children whether it be classmates or siblings.

It helps the child refine his movements and learn to be careful especially when the dishes are glass.


Since we came home, I have been gradually modifying our environment to meet the needs of my two boys. I try to make changes gradually and watch for signs that they are ready. I first set up the basic environment. I moved the hand washing station to the living room and added a water dispensing station.

 He knew how to use the hand washing station so we worked on getting water from the dispenser and then getting into the routine of eating at the table with his brother. 
As part of this process, he was responsible for filling up their glasses and clearing the table. He would take the dishes to the kitchen one at a time. 

After about a week, I felt we had our routine down so I set up the area for more independence.   

The videos and pictures are pretty self explanatory so I’ll just let you watch them. As usual, they keep it real and are far from perfect. You will hear the baby fussing in the background and see items from our outdoor area inside. We had a storm the night before. The same storm also caused the mirror to fall off the wall but that’s just real life around here! Happy to answer any questions in the comments.

When he is done, he takes the basket to the kitchen, returns the table mat  

And wipes the table while his brother watches on, absorbing the process.

When the dishes are clean, he brings them back and arranges them on the shelf

I love how he finishes and just walks away, moving on to other things… No praise or external gratification required.

Ps. It wasn’t intentional but I love how our dishes and cups have brought him in practical contact with a circle, square and rectangle.

I’m happy to answer any questions. Do you have your child’s meal process set up to facilitate independence? 

Live a Good Life!

10 thoughts on “Setting the table toddler style

    1. Hello Sue-Mey, my first son is 2 year old (25 months old) and my second is 6 months old. It is not too early to involve your son in the process. If he can walk then he’s ready to participate the routine activities like this. First step is to set up an area that he can reach with the basic necessities. Then introduce the process slowly. You could start with him only placing the mat and then gradually add on as you observe his interest and abilities. Include him in your tasks around the house and give him opportunities for independence. They are capable 🙂

      Thank you for your comment and let me know how I can help further.

  1. are there times when he is not in the mood to do any of this? .. i am guessing the answer is yes!. 🙂

    1. Hello Kennie, Do any of what? Set the table? It’s part of their eating routine and I don’t ask/force him to do it. If he’s hungry and it’s time to eat, he sets the table. I guess for me it’s like taking off his pants when he needs to use the toilet. It has nothing to do with mood, it’s just part of the process.

      If your question is about activities on the shelf to work on, then off course. He has complete freedom to choose if and when he wants to work/play. On some days he prefers to ride his tricycle all day and that’s perfectly fine because I trust that he’s meeting his needs. On other days he goes through and works on everything and asks for more. It ebbs and flows

      Thank you for your comment 🙂

  2. Great post! These pictures & videos are so helpful for parents who wonder how much one can teach a toddler. Thank you, I pass your site on to the parents in my Montessori Playgroup!.

  3. Solu arranging the table THE MOST BEAUTIFUL THING Ive seen in a long time ! I have a water dispenser set up, however my 18m old is interested in letting the water flow out of it. How do we help him with using it only to fill glass when he needs ?

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